Former Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg laid to rest

VIDEO: Former Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg laid to rest
Harve Jacobs interviewed former Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg.
Harve Jacobs interviewed former Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg.

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Former City of Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg, who died Wednesday at the age of 71, was laid to rest Sunday with hundreds attending his service.

"Reuben Morris Greenberg made his city safe, and he made it more just," Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said during the service. "He was never satisfied with the status quo. He was always pushing."

The service was held Sunday at Synagogue Emanu-El. with burial at Mount Pleasant Memorial Gardens.

Greenberg took control of the Charleston City Police department in 1982 and was well known for a plunging crime rate that dropped to 1960s levels during his 23-year tenure.

Rev. Nelson Rivers, who knew Greenberg for years, was one of the first people to meet him after his arrival in Charleston.

"His first press conference, when they introduced him, one of the reporters asked 'How does it feel to be the first black police chief in the history of Charleston?' He said 'a better question is how do you feel because I've been black and I've been a chief? This is not new for me. It's new for you.'"

He was police chief during Hurricane Hugo 25 years ago, and weathered a Ku Klux Klan rally near Charleston's black neighborhoods.

Mayor Joe Riley released the following statement Wednesday after the announcement of Greenberg's passing was released:

The death of Chief Greenberg causes great sadness to the citizens of our community.  Our city got to know Chief Greenberg not only as our Chief of Police but as our friend.  Chief Greenberg became a national figure due to his creative, energetic and successful leadership of our police department.  His determination to make and keep Charleston safe and his most effective leadership in doing so enhanced the quality of life for every citizen in Charleston.  

As one of the first African American police chiefs in our country and certainly in the South, Chief Greenberg became an important symbol of racial progress and achievement.  

The 25th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo reminds us of his extraordinary service during that trying time.  He was committed to making sure our citizens were safe from the hurricane as well as keeping price gougers from preying on homeowners and citizens on the days after this traumatic hurricane.

Chief Greenberg had the knack of seeming to be almost everywhere.  People became accustomed to seeing him assisting with a traffic accident, responding to a call for service at their homes, directing traffic, as well as seeing him on television and hearing him on the radio.  I personally will forever be grateful for his accepting the job of being Police Chief for the City of Charleston and all the extraordinary service he rendered the citizens of our community.  We will miss him very much.

A Texas native, Greenberg, who happened to be Jewish, became known "nationally and internationally for his innovative and controversial approach to fighting crime through prevention rather than reaction," according to the College of Charleston's Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. The center holds a collection called "The Reuben Greenberg Papers," which dates from 1990 to 1997.

"He did not care what anybody thought of him," said Rivers. "He had enemies in the black community, in the white community, even in the police community, but when it's all said and done, he was an excellent chief of police and he changed policing in the area, and I've met a lot of police officers and a lot of police chiefs all over the country, and Reuben Greenberg was hands down the best chief of police I ever met."

Schooled at the likes of the University of California-Berkeley, Greenberg's intellect and innovative police techniques won him national accolades. His 1989 book,

Let's Take Back Our Streets

, became a best seller. Cities like Chicago and Washington, DC wanted him and for a time, he was on loan to Mobile, Alabama.

But Greenberg's straight-shooter style wasn't popular with everyone. He once apologized to NAACP leaders who said his use of profanity to describe criminal suspects who were black indicated he was against the community, not with them.

"I certainly regret and apologize if my words have hampered that cooperative spirit," Greenberg said after the incident.

In 2005, he announced his retirement, at the advice of his doctors.

"I love Charleston," he said. "Nice place to work, the people of Charleston have been very, very good to me."

"The chief is irreplaceable. There is no other Reuben Greenberg," Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said at the time Greenberg's retirement was announced."I'm gonna cool it," Greenberg said of his retirement plans. "I expect to do something I haven't done in a long time: start enjoying life, putting that first in line, that's what's next for me."

The municipal building on Lockwood Boulevard, which houses Charleston's Police Department as well as the municipal court, was named in Greenberg's honor.

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